Ofek spy satellites, 2 classified defense projects win top security prize

Defense minister announces winners ahead of awards ceremony, praises recipients for contributions to national security; all projects involve multiple security organizations

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israel's Ofek-16 reconnaissance satellite takes off from central Israel on July 6, 2020. (Defense Ministry)
Israel's Ofek-16 reconnaissance satellite takes off from central Israel on July 6, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday announced this year’s recipients of Israel’s top security prize: the country’s spy satellites and two other classified projects.

The award, which is named for the commander of Israel’s pre-state Hagana militia Eliyahu Golomb, is presented each year to people and projects deemed to have made a significant contribution to the country’s security.

Israel launched its first satellite, Ofek-1, into space in 1988. Most recently, the Ofek-16 was launched into space in July 2020.

The latest launch was a joint operation of the Defense Ministry’s Space Department and the Israel Aerospace Industries. The satellite is operated by the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate.

“The satellites serve the defense establishment 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and provide quality and reliable intelligence in real-time,” the Defense Ministry said.

According to a spokesperson for IAI, it was the 30th time the manufacturer has been awarded the Israel Defense Prize.

The other two projects that won the prize this year remain largely classified. Both involved at least two security organizations.

One was led by the Military Intelligence’s 8200 Unit, Mossad, Shin Bet and the Defense Ministry’s Director of Security of the Defense Establishment.

Israel’s Ofek-16 reconnaissance satellite is seen before it was launched from central Israel on July 6, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

“As part of this project, which lasted about a decade, the intelligence agencies in the country are working in a combined effort, in a variety of bold and innovative ways, while facing enormous technological challenges,” the Defense Ministry said.

The other winner was a project led by Mossad and the research and development team of the ministry’s Weapons Development and Technology Infrastructure Administration, known as MAFAT.

The project’s goal was to “maintain the qualitative advantage of the State of Israel against strategic threats,” the ministry said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz holds a meeting on Israel’s top security prize, on May 30, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The awards ceremony will be held June 14 at the President’s Residence and is due to be attended by Gantz, President Isaac Herzog, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel.

Gantz hailed this year’s winners for their contributions to the security of the country.

“The Israel Defense Prize reflects more than anything the integration of the arms of all security bodies. We see this on the battlefield every day, when the IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad and Israel Police work together,” Gantz said.

“I congratulate the award winners, who are at the forefront of hundreds of groundbreaking security ventures. We will continue to push forward Israeli developments, and strengthen Israel’s security,” he added.

Last year’s winners were also mostly classified. Among the winners in 2019 were the Mossad agents behind the operation to steal Iran’s nuclear archive the year before.

The prize has been awarded annually by the president since 1958. Though the prize is sometimes given for lifetime achievement, generally the recipients are responsible for the creation of a new piece of technology or a specific operation.

Over the years, the prize has been awarded both to individuals, like Uzi Gal who received the first Israel Defense Prize in 1958 for creating the Uzi submachine gun, and to entire teams, like the group responsible for the development of the TROPHY anti-missile system that protects Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers, which won in 2014.

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